19 Tips for Stronger Grant Proposals

Are you looking for ways to help your grant proposal stand out? Whether you are new to grant writing or have been writing grants for some time, grant proposals can seem daunting.

We are going to help you improve your proposal writing skills by providing some tips for strong grant proposals. These tips will help you write more competitive proposals in hopes of improving your success at winning grants.

First Things First: What Makes a Strong Grant Proposal?

If you have researched funders and found a good fit for your particular nonprofit or project, then you are ready to work on a grant proposal. To make the best use of grant proposal tips, it is important to first understand the factors that make a strong grant proposal.

A strong grant proposal should provide background on your nonprofit and explain your project in detail. Whether you have been in the grant writing game for some time or if you have been learning how to become a grant writer, you may have heard of the 5 Rs of grant writing.

The 5 Rs are readiness, research, relationships, writing, and reporting.

These 5 Rs are key to writing a successful grant proposal. If we look at readiness for example, you would want to make sure that you understand all elements of a grant proposal before you begin writing. You can learn more about grant readiness through our blog here.

A strong grant proposal should be clear, concise, and compelling. Make sure that you provide enough detail that the funder understands your project and can see that you have thought things through; but don’t get too wordy.

Your grant proposal should also tell a story that helps the funder relate to your project. You want to pull at their heart strings and make sure that your story aligns with the reasons why they choose to give. Funders want to know that they are making a difference.

Tips for Planning Grant Proposals More Effectively

One important grant writing tip for nonprofits is to plan from the start when writing a grant proposal. The following planning tips will help make the writing process easier and help you understand how to write a successful grant proposal.

1. Follow directions

Make sure you meet all requirements such as eligibility, geography, and alignment with the priorities of the funder. Following directions also applies to how you answer grant proposal questions. Read prompts thoroughly and make sure that you answer them appropriately.

For example, if the prompt says “Describe the community your project will serve (include demographics, location, etc.)”, you will want to write a response that includes all the information they request in the prompt.

Following the directions provided by the funder will help you effectively plan out your grant proposal, so make sure you understand all directions before you begin writing.

2. Map out your goals

Goals are an important element of a grant proposal. You need to understand your goals to truly understand your project and mapping them out in advance will help you prepare a strong proposal.

Mapping out your goals will also help you determine how you plan to track and evaluate your success. You will need to list these goals and describe your evaluation methods in your grant proposal.

Having clear goals that follow the SMART goals method will help make your grant proposal even stronger. You can reference this webinar provided to learn more about SMART goals.

3. Allocate time wisely

Writing a grant proposal takes time, especially if you want to write a strong proposal that has good odds of getting funded. Properly allocating time is an important grant writing tip for beginners as you may not truly understand how much work goes into a successful grant proposal.

One way that you can use your time wisely is by gathering required paperwork ahead of time. If you have written grants before, then you may already have some of the basic documents such as proof of 501(c)3 status, organization budget, strategic plan, list of board members etc., ready from past applications.

While the specific documents required may vary between funders, having this type of general information easily accessible will make the process easier and let you focus your efforts on the meat of your grant proposal.

4. Research

It is also important to research information related to the funder, your project, and your audience to help strengthen your grant proposal.

By learning about similar projects, you can gain insight into what has been successful and what has received funding in the past. Instrumentl has a Past Awards Received feature that can help you investigate nonprofits similar to yours and see who has funded their work.

Here is a screenshot of this feature to demonstrate what type of information it can provide.

Learn more about what makes Instrumentl different here.

Researching demographics information on your audience will help you be prepared to describe your intended audience and back up your planning with data. Data always helps create a stronger grant proposal.

You also want to know whether or not your proposed project has already been done before. If it has been done, but maybe in another location, then you can use this as supporting information for the importance of the work. However, you want to make sure that you do not double dip and duplicate the work of another nonprofit.

Persuasion Techniques and Advice for Grant Proposals

1. Make Use of Relationships

A great grant writing tip for beginners is to remember that grants are heavily based on relationships. Having a past relationship with a funder is one way to help your proposal stand out. In order to establish and keep these relationships with funders, you need to make sure that you follow all requirements when you receive a grant.

When a grant is received, all reporting must be completed in a timely manner and you should find additional ways to reach out and thank the funder. If their funds help fund a program that allows for it, you can even invite the funder to come observe the work that they are funding. Check out our ultimate grant reporting guide to learn more.

2. Strong Partnership Letters

Another technique that can help persuade the funder to support your work is strong partnership letters. Many funders look favorably on partnerships between multiple nonprofits or between nonprofits and other entities. They see types of projects as opportunities to get more “bang for their buck”.

Some grantmakers even require partnerships for you to be eligible. You can help your grant proposal stand out by making sure that you secure good partnerships and providing strong partnership letters or letters of support.

A strong partnership letter will demonstrate the commitment of the partner to the project, confirm the need for the project, explain the role of the partner(s), and provide information on any past successes with the specific partner (if applicable).

3. Demonstrate Qualifications

Another persuasion technique that may help your grant proposal stand out is explaining why your organization is the best qualified to carry out your proposed project. Include information about relevant past successes and describe the qualifications of your staff that relate to the project.

4. Use the Budget Wisely

Be specific with your budget and demonstrate that you have researched what you truly need to complete the work. Another tip for grant writing success is to use the project budget to demonstrate how you will leverage the funds you are requesting.

Leveraging funds could mean using them in combination with additional resources such as other grants, sponsorships, in-kind donations, or even volunteers. Funders appreciate seeing that they are not the only funding source for the project.

Storytelling Principles to Apply to Your Grants

Another key thing to keep in mind relating to how to write a successful grant proposal is to understand that grant writing is storytelling. Here are a few storytelling tips for grant writing success.

1. Sell Your Nonprofit

One great grant writing tip is to sell your nonprofit and your work. Your grant proposal needs to explain why your nonprofit deserves to be funded.

When selling your nonprofit, it is important to tell your story as if those reading it have no prior knowledge of your nonprofit or your project. The story that you tell needs to provide enough detail about your nonprofit to demonstrate why you are the best fit to complete your proposed project.

2. Elicit Emotions

Another storytelling principle you can apply is to utilize emotion. If it is applicable to your work, use emotive language to pull at the funder’s heart strings. Helping the reviewers form an emotional connection with your nonprofit and your project will help your proposal stand out.

Even if the work of your organization is not something that typically elicits an emotional response, help the reviewers feel your passion. Write in such a way that those reading your proposal will understand what makes you enthusiastic about your project.

3. Back it up With Data

Even though you may not consider data related to storytelling, you can use data to demonstrate the importance of your work and help persuade the funder that their investment will have a large impact.

Data could include results from past work of your own nonprofit, results of similar projects from other organizations, or demographics for the audience you plan to serve.

4. Admit Weaknesses

Another storytelling principle that you can apply is to admit weaknesses. Admitting weaknesses or potential challenges of your project will help keep your story authentic.

It is helpful to list potential solutions to these types of challenges, but you can also be honest if there is not a clear answer. Grantmakers appreciate honesty from applicants and admitting these types of challenges will help increase your credibility with the funder.

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Proofreading Tips for Better Grant Proposals

The grant proposal is your chance to showcase your strengths and you don’t want discrepancies or simple errors in writing to be the deciding factor in whether your work gets funded. These proofreading tips are a relatively easy way to help you write a stronger grant proposal.

1. Check your math

Simple errors such as incorrect math or calculations are an easy way for your proposal to be removed from the running. If you are interested in making your grant proposal stronger, then checking your budget for mathematical errors is one easy way to achieve this goal.

2. Check grammar and spelling

Grammar and spelling errors will stand out to the reviewers (and not in a good way).

One great way to make sure you don't make any of these types of mistakes is to ask another staff member to read your proposal. If possible, you can also have an outside contact review the proposal for errors.

3. Align your narratives

Many grant proposals will ask for both a project and a budget narrative. These two narratives need to tell the same story. Keeping these aligned will demonstrate to the funder that you truly understand your project and have a well thought out budget that matches the work you plan to achieve.

On the contrary, if there are discrepancies between these two narratives, the reviewers may be concerned that your project is not well thought out.

4. Get an outside opinion

It can be very helpful to request a review of your proposal by someone outside your organization (or even a board member less familiar with the day-to-day).

Because a strong grant proposal needs to tell your story to someone who may have no prior knowledge of your nonprofit, an outside opinion can be very beneficial. The reader can tell you how well the proposal reads and whether it makes sense with less knowledge of the nonprofit and proposed project.

Goal Setting Tips for Stronger Grant Proposals

It is important to set goals and objectives that align with your intended results and can be measured through your evaluation methods. We have included a few tips for goal setting to help you create a stronger grant proposal.

1. Make your goals SMART

One good way to help strengthen your grant proposal is to make sure that you create SMART goals.

While there are a few different versions of what each letter stands for in the SMART acronym, the general concept is Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic, and Time Limited.

You can review this template for setting SMART goals from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

This process will help ensure that your goals are solid ones that allow you to easily outline specific outputs and outcomes. Writing stronger goals will in turn help you develop evaluation methods that actually demonstrate your success and are realistic.

2. Create clear evaluation methods

Evaluation has become increasingly important to funders in recent years. Where in the past the number of people that you serve may have been enough to satisfy the grantmaker, funders now want to truly understand the impact that the work has on the constituents.

One part of your grant proposal will likely be intended results and evaluation. The funder wants to understand the impact their funds will have on the audience and you need to describe how you will show that impact. The evaluation methods you choose need to clearly align with your goals and objectives.

Keep in mind that some grantmakers have specific evaluation methods or criteria that they prefer and some may even help provide assistance in developing your evaluation process. Simply put, be prepared to truly demonstrate your results.

Check out our previous blog post about evaluation methods for some additional insights.

3. Don’t overdo it

If you are seeking ways to make your grant proposal stand out, it can be tempting to set loftier goals and try to demonstrate a larger impact. The grantmaker will be able to tell if you are “stretching it”. Keep the goals straightforward and make sure they are achievable (make them SMART).

This tip also refers to not creating too many goals for your project. You do not want to bite off more than you can chew and then not be able to deliver on what you promised.

While it is important for your project to have an impact on your intended audience, keep things realistic. Funders appreciate a certain level of simplicity and can likely tell if your proposed goals are too lofty.

Wrapping Up: 19 Tips for Stronger Grant Proposals

Our tips for strong grant proposals can help those who are new to the field or those who may have been in the game a bit longer create proposals that stand out.

Grant writing is storytelling and it is important to tell your story well. Following all directions and proofreading are key ways to help improve your grant proposal so that your proposal is not removed from the running due to something that could have been avoided.

We hope you can use the tips and advice that we have provided to write stronger grant proposals and increase your grant success.

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